Engagement of Governance with Spirituality
Towards a Complexification of the Political Image of Religions
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There continue to be a significant number of continuing conflicts in which
religion plays a major role (eg Middle East, Northern Ireland, Algeria). Religious
fundamentalism continues to emerge as a significant cause of unrest and tension
in societies, whether or not this leads to physical violence. Fundamentalism
continues to be as significant within Christianity and Judaism as it is within
Islam. It is also playing an increasingly role in other religions (eg Hinduism).
There are contradictory tendencies towards increased apathy with respect to
institutionalized religion and increased interest in informal spirituality.
Particular religions have proved reluctant to assist in clarifying the different
tendencies within their own faith in its broadest sense, preferring to reinforce
distinctions between that religion and others.
Institutionalized religions continue to ally themselves with particular nationalistic
policies (eg in Serbia) and to take strong positions on particular issues of
current importance to governance (eg population planning, cloning, abortion,
education, media content). The issue of sects and their influence, and the definition
of legitimate religious activity, remains a policy concern (as illustrated by
the case of scientology).
are many efforts to reconcile differences between major religious traditions,
the practical results are relatively modest.
challenge for governments is to develop a fruitful attitude towards these
phenomena. This is especially the case when such an attitude is the basis for
internal policy or foreign policy.
There is a
marked tendency to over-simplify political understanding of religion. In
traditionally Christian countries, for example, it is dangerously easy to
stereotype fundamentalism as Islamic fundamentalism. This leads to treatment of
Islam as a potential political menace analogous to the role played by Communism
in the past.
is whether the political image of religion can be complexified as a basis for
more subtle and discerning policies. This requires insights from
institutionalized religion -- whilst remaining credible to those who value
spiritual belief independent of such institutionalization.
should be designed in such a way as not to interfere with any ongoing dialogues
between particular religions. Its purpose is to improve the quality of
understanding informing the relationship of religions to governments and
intergovernmental institutions -- as understood by policy-makers.
It is proposed that a meeting be held at which the views of a range of religions and
spiritual perspectives should be presented.
of the meeting would be to help clarify governmental understanding of religions
and spiritual perspectives -- but only to the extent that these can be
demonstrated to be of significance to government policy-making.
whether from particular religions or those capable of articulating their
positions, would be invited to make presentations at the meeting.
occasion of the event, care would need to be taken to distinguish the roles of:
- written presentations: appropriate to background and detailed arguments,
citation of sources
- verbal presentations: appropriate to clarification of principal insights
to assembled participants, and
- dialogue: appropriate to refinement of insights and establishment of correspondence
or differences between perspectives
- overview reports: endeavouring to provide a common context for the perspectives
presented that would be of value to policy-makers.
important to guard against the tendency to produce only a series of relatively
indigestible lengthy reports when the need of policy-makers is for a
comprehensible framework that is more subtle than that currently available. In
this respect the emphasis is on comprehension of perspectives rather than
persuasion as to their validity. The different religious perspectives need to
be understood by policy-makers in a manner analogous to that of other policy
light, two special methodological approaches merit consideration:
(a) Image and metaphor: Politicians deal increasingly in images in
debates on issues and policies are increasingly communicated through the media
in terms of images and metaphor. The question is through what images would
religions choose to articulate their perspectives in relation to the challenges
of governance. Policy-makers need richer metaphors and images through which
to understand and discuss the policy implications of spiritual issues.
Participants at the proposed meeting might therefore be asked to focus their
conclusions on the metaphors through they prefer to have their particular
concerns understood in contrast to those of other religions. Note that in
the dialogue phase of the meeting, it may well be more fruitful to dialogue
about the metaphors used rather than refer constantly to texts.
(b) Spiritual map: In order to avoid the tendency to treat spiritual
issues purely in relation to current short-term policy crises, the many different
spiritual tendencies need to be more effectively positioned together on a
map. Such a map provides a sense of context in relation to which long-term
policies can be developed and discussed.
Such a map
could be a major outcome of the event and would have a variety of uses. Whether
a single tentative map is produced, or whether several maps are produced,
emphasis should be placed on the need to refine this mapping process with all
the skills of modern artwork and computer-aided design. In the case of
geographical maps, there has always been a tendency to produce maps that
position particular countries "at the centre". There is no harm in
this preferred positioning for the religion's constituency -- provided there is
an understanding of how many such maps can be combined. Historically, in the
case of geo-political maps, this has been achieved by projecting all such maps
onto a spherical surface -- in this case the planetary globe.
challenge is whether a similar "globe" could be used to explain the
perspectives and differences of the many religions and spiritual tendencies.
Progress towards the design of such a globe would be a major political and
symbolic achievement of the proposed gathering. It would also give space to
seemingly eccentric perspectives that otherwise may seek to establish their
relevance in radical ways that constitute a major political challenge.